⚠ Important recall information appears below.
Orijen is produced by Champion Petfoods, a Canadian company. The products, including dog and cat food and treats, are designed to be biologically appropriate for pets.
With roots going back to its founding in 1975 as Champion Feed Services Ltd., today’s Champion Petfoods is the pet food industry’s little engine that could. The company also makes Acana.
Below, we share more information about the history of Orijen — including up-to-date recall information.
Orijen Quick Facts
Brand line includes: Orijen Original, Orijen Six Fish, Orijen Regional Red, Orijen Tundra, Orijen Fit & Trim, Orijen Senior, Orijen Freeze-Dried, Orijen Cat & Kitten, Orijen Dog Treats, Orijen Cat Treats
Where to buy: Latest deals on Orijen dog or cat food
Company: Champion Petfoods LP
Headquarters: 301, 1103 95 Street SW, Edmonton, AB T6CX 0P8, Canada
Contact info: 1-877-939-0006, email, website
Reinhard Muhlenfeld was a German-born Canadian who succeeded in launching several successful businesses before entering the animal feed industry.
An engineer by trade, Muhlenfeld noticed that animal feed was being imported into Canada from the United States. With the thought that local is better, he set out on a quest to become the first animal feed producer in his home province of Alberta.
Champion Feed Services Ltd. started in a small factory in Barrhead, Alberta, in 1975. Muhlenfeld approached local farmers and businesspeople directly to find buyers for his products. His company came to be a “value-added agri-processing operation,” according to one newspaper account.
Back then, he had just a handful of employees.
Muhlenfeld’s excellent treatment of his employees has sometimes been called the key to the company’s early success.
He was known for hiring recent immigrants to Canada; for helping out employees with his own money; and for saying, “If you have money, you share it.”
In 1985, as hog feed demand decreased, the company branched into pet foods. Muhlenfeld made the unusual decision to manufacture pet food that meets European standards from the start, which greased the way for exporting Champion Feed Services pet food to 90 countries, beginning in the 1990s.
Finally, in 2001, Champion Petfoods was spun off from the feed mill as an independent company. The company was producing premium brands Acana and Canutra, as well as more budget-minded brands like Brown Bag, Yukon Gold 30/20 Mushers Mix, Champs Choice Deluxe and Masterfeeds Sportsman dog foods, and Kitty Krunch cat food.
The Orijen Brand Disrupts the Industry
In 2005, Champion Petfoods launched the Orijen brand.
According to the parent company’s CEO at the time, Frank Burdzy, Orijen stands for “back to the beginning to nourish as nature intended.” Brudzy claimed that Orijen has disrupted the pet food industry with its higher-than-typical meat content.
In conjunction with the 2005 launch of Orijen, Champion also trademarked the expression “biologically appropriate,” which means the food matches the specific breed of animal. To explain the term, a spokesperson pointed to the example of a cow that chews sideways. While it seems obvious that the food should match the animal, the science is more complex, the spokesperson said.
Around the time of the Orijen launch, existing brand Acana was already being shipped from Canada to dozens of countries around the world. Even so, according to Champion Petfoods sales and marketing manager Peter Muhlenfeld in 2006, “we see Orijen as our future.”
From 2010 to 2017, Champion Petfoods saw unprecedented expansion. Starting the decade with 92 employees, the company grew to employ 550.
To facilitate its stellar growth, the company built a U.S. facility in Kentucky, then another in Parkland County, Alberta. Exporting grew from distribution to 45 countries to 80 countries.
Committed to Locally and Sustainably Raised Ingredients
One distinctive feature of Champion is its commitment to using locally raised ingredients.
A company spokesperson says the pet food produced in Auburn, Kentucky, will taste different from the pet food made in Alberta. That’s because all ingredients are sourced locally. In researching the Kentucky location, the company made sure that all necessary ingredients could be grown or raised nearby.
The company has also committed itself to using only sustainably raised food. That means only free-range chickens, sustainably harvested fish, and sustainably raised cattle can be sold for Orijen and other Champion brands. Champion is notable, too, for promoting bison agriculture.
In early 2020, Champion launched several new lines of food, including Orijen Small Breed.
Champion spends less on advertising than its competitors, yet sells its product for almost twice what some other popular pet foods cost. The success of this company suggests that its customers value the locally and sustainably raised ingredients and the high percentage of meat in the product. And Champion has successfully captured a healthy share of that market.
Is Nestlé Buying Champion Petfoods?
No. Champion Petfoods has said this is merely a rumor.
The Wall Street Journal reported on July 2, 2018, that Nestlé Purina PetCare Company was trying to buy a majority stake in Champion. The price tag? More than $2 billion.
However, Champion disputed any such “speculation” about Nestlé’s acquisition of Champion.
“It is our policy to never comment on rumors or speculation in the market,” the company said in a Facebook post the day the Wall Street Journal article was published. “Rumors about Champion being sold have been circulating over the past few years and will continue for as long we deliver on our promise to make the world’s best pet food under our Acana and Orijen brands.”
It was kind of a denial, but more of a “we’re not going to comment.”
A few months later, in December 2018, the Financial Times reported that “early-stage talks” between Nestlé and Champion Petfoods had been “rekindled.” The talks remained tentative, though.
The Financial Times said, “The people familiar with the situation cautioned that there was no guarantee a deal could be reached. It is also not clear if Champion’s backers want to pursue a sale of the company, which continues to grow quickly.”
No other reporting has emerged on an acquisition deal, so it appears to have fallen apart. That’s great news for many fans of Orijen and Acana, who were up in arms about any deal that puts those brands under the Nestlé Purina corporate umbrella.
“The number of negative comments related to this takeover is simply overwhelming,” commented one person on LinkedIn. “Conscious consumers do not trust Purina and declare walking away from buying Champion’s products. Many are convinced Nestlé will destroy the quality of products for profit.”
Has Orijen Ever Been Recalled?
Yes. There was a recall of Orijen cat food in November 2008 that was limited to Australia. The problems had to do with irradiation treatment, required under Australian law. The company says the irradiation was never done outside of Australia. As a result of that recall, the company decided to stop selling all Orijen pet food in Australia.
Orijen has never been recalled in the United States or Canada, according to research from Petful.
2019 Heart Disease Investigation
We also want to alert readers to the fact that, in late June 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified Orijen as one of 16 pet food brands that may be linked to heart disease in dogs and cats. None of those 16 brands have been recalled as part of the agency’s ongoing investigation, though. Most, but not all, of the pet foods are “grain-free” and/or dry (kibble) dog food formulations.
The FDA says this is a “complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors,” and that it cannot even be certain that diet is a cause of the heart problems.
Champion Petfoods says, “We continue to test our food every day to ensure we are meeting all quality and safety standards and to deliver the best possible nutrition for pets.”
We’ll also mention that, in March 2018, a class-action lawsuit (Weaver v. Champion Petfoods USA Inc. et al.) was filed against Champion Petfoods, accusing the company of “negligent, reckless” practices, false advertising, and “failing to disclose the presence of heavy metals and toxins” in its Orijen and Acana dog foods.
In response, the company called the allegations “meritless and based on misinterpretation of the data.”
Mad Cow Disease Scare
Years ago, in May 2003, Champion Petfoods faced an unprecedented crisis.
A rendered meat ingredient used in some of its lower-end brands was found to possibly contain the remains of a cow that had been infected with mad cow disease. None of Champion’s premium brands, such as Acana, had used such rendered ingredients — and Orijen hadn’t even been invented yet.
A report from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on May 27, 2003, found that a cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a fatal brain-wasting disease, had been slaughtered in January 2003 and was then processed by a small rendering facility in northern Alberta, Canada.
Champion Petfoods may have then used the rendered material in 4 of its dog foods:
- Yukon Gold 30/20 Mushers Mix (Lot #32819)
- Champs Choice Deluxe (Lot #32884)
- Masterfeeds Sportsman (Lot #33105)
- Brown Bag (Lot #33112)
The affected dog food was produced between Feb. 4 and March 12, 2003, and was distributed in both Canada and the United States.
Dr. Brian Evans, chief veterinarian at the Canadian inspection agency, said “there’s no scientific evidence” that dogs can contract BSE.
However, “even though there is no known risk to dogs from eating this dog food, as a prudent measure … customers who may have purchased the suspect product [should return it] so that the dog food will not mistakenly be mixed into cattle or other feeds,” U.S. safety officials at the FDA reiterated in a May 30, 2003, advisory.
Canadian authorities did not require a dog food recall, but Champion said it would offer customers refunds if requested.
After the 2003 BSE scare, Champion announced it was eliminating rendered beef from all of its pet food products, including the lower-priced grocery store brands. That wasn’t enough — the company temporarily lost significant trust.
In the weeks after the crisis hit, Champion was losing around $200,000 per day in sales and was forced to lay off half of its 60-employee workforce. “It’s a brutal situation for us,” said Peter Muhlenfeld. “We couldn’t survive like this for long.”
Eventually, the company recovered and grew even stronger. Most pet parents at this point probably aren’t even aware that Champion Petfoods was ever caught up in a “mad cow” scare — and it bears repeating that Orijen and Acana were never affected by that madness.
In the next section below, we discuss the Orijen pet food recall history.
List of Orijen Pet Food Recalls
Cause: Problems with mandatory gamma irradiation, limited to Australia. Several cats fell seriously ill. Announcement: Company announcement dated Nov. 26, 2008 (archived here). What was recalled: All Orijen cat food — only in Australia. No U.S. or Canadian food was affected.
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